The School Committee voted Tuesday night to tweak the existing controlled-choice policy so the lottery can be run and parents can be notified soon about which school their children will be assigned to for kindergarten in September.
The amended policy will provide enough seats and minimize the number of mandatory assignments for families who don't qualify for free or reduced lunch. This is the group that has disproportionally been wait-listed for the 10+ years I've been following school issues.
This vote is good news.
The amended policy will also provide more flexibility to move families seeking transfers in grades 1-8 off those wait-lists.
Although I was hoping for a policy that would be more responsive to the demographics of in-coming families, I realize there were outstanding questions about the first vote.
The first vote we took on a policy change would have based assignments on the demographics of families who registered in the first cycle. Although the great majority of families do register during this cycle (the month of January), this way of doing the assignments wouldn't factor in the demographics of families registering later in the year right before school opened.
What might make more sense going forward is to base the definition of balance on the demographics of the previous year's entire pool of registrants. That means the kindergarten class would be more representative of in-coming families as recently as the year prior.
The policy we voted Tuesday still bases the apportionment of seats on the demographics of the entire K-8 population. And I still think that is a problem.
Even though we added some flexibility to get by through this year, we have to look at the basis of the problem: the demographics of young families entering the school system appears to be very different than the K-8 population. (Another piece of evidence: traditionally, the majority of applicants who register for kindergarten after cycle 1 are eligible for free/reduced lunch. But already in cycle 2, this is not true; the majority are "pay" families, according to administrators who spoke on Tuesday.)
We will be discussing this policy again in the fall after school begins. It is very complex and there are a lot of divergent opinions.
But, in addition to the policy, we'll certainly be talking about another piece of the picture: schools that are not attracting a diverse pool of choices. This is a problem that has been, and can continue to be, addressed by putting in new programs to attract whichever demographic is not choosing a school.
The superintendent's idea to transform the Tobin into a Montessori school is a great example of what can be done. According to surveys done in Cambridge, this program choice was seen as attractive by both low-income and "pay" families. And, indeed, unlike the recent past at the Tobin, the Montessori drew a balance of families from both categories for its first year of operation this fall.
But it is also possible to put in smaller programs and other services to attract either middle/high income families or low-income families to existing school programs that are imbalanced in one way or another.